28 November 2020

Prussian Princes in World War II

It is sad, but those Princes who served in the Wehrmacht only gave ammunition to the republican cause.

From The Mad Monarchist (27 June 2015)

During the years of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany, some royals embraced the new regime while others opposed it. Those who joined the Nazis were mostly from minor families who felt they had nothing to lose by doing so and would have gained little if the old monarchy system had been restored. However, it was the Prussian royals who were the focus of the most attention as they had previously been not only the Royal Family of Prussia but the Imperial Family of the whole of Germany. Of those, it is important to note that only one son of the former Kaiser, Prince August Wilhelm and his family, took up the Nazi cause. His father, Kaiser Wilhelm II, practically disowned him for doing so as he refused to have anything to do with any government in Germany that was not the old monarchy. Some thought that Prince August Wilhelm harbored ambitions of gaining the imperial throne for himself or perhaps his son but, of course, that is something the Nazis would never have done. In the end, Hitler would turn on him as he turned on all the German royals when they could no longer be of use to him.

Hitler & Prince Charles Edward of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha

Numerous Prussian princes, while shunning the Nazi Party, did join the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) and fight in the war, at least early on. It is important to understand who these men were and why they served considering that the Nazis and everything connected with them have been vilified to the point of appearing as almost fictional caricatures of pure evil so that the actual facts of the situation are often ignored. Not every German was a Nazi and not even every Nazi chose to be so because they wanted to be on the most evil “team” on the world stage. Many men fought for Germany in World War II who were not members of the Nazi Party and, on the other hand, there were examples like the famous case of Oscar Schindler who was a card-carrying member of the Nazi Party who is honored to this day for all of the Jewish lives he saved during the Holocaust. The problem that plagued the German royals was the same as has been faced by many royals around the world whose countries have abolished their monarchies; whether to place themselves in opposition to their country because of its government or to defend their homeland regardless of the political situation.

In the absence of the Kaiser, exiled in The Netherlands, the highest ranking royal in Germany was Prussian Crown Prince Wilhelm. Of his sons, all who were able to, served in the German military during World War II in some capacity, at least for a time. The only one who did not was his youngest son, Prince Friedrich of Prussia, who was studying in England when the war broke out. He was arrested by British authorities as an “enemy alien” and placed in an internment camp in England and later moved to Canada. In both camps, his fellow inmates elected him their leader and he became a British citizen after the war in 1947. The first and third sons served in the German army while the second served in the Luftwaffe. Crown Prince Wilhelm himself is sometimes portrayed as a Nazi Party member or supporter. Neither is true. A veteran of the First World War and army group commander on the western front, the Crown Prince was as opposed to the Versailles Treaty as any patriotic German was, opposed the Weimar Republic and supported Germany reasserting itself as a proud member of the world community. However, he was never a member or supporter of the Nazi Party.

Crown Prince Wilhelm

Assumptions to the contrary mostly arise from the fact that numerous photos of the Crown Prince wearing what appears to be the standard Nazi Brownshirt uniform can be found. Despite appearances, the Crown Prince was not a Brownshirt but rather did belong to the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK) which was a subsidiary organization for automobile and motorcycle enthusiasts. It was a fact of life in Germany that, under the Nazi regime, virtually all such organizations had to adopt Nazi-style uniforms including the ubiquitous brown shirts and swastika armbands. However, there was nothing sinister about the NSKK itself. It trained drivers, held rallies and helped motorists, similar to organizations such as AAA in America or the British Automobile Association. Crown Prince Wilhelm was never a member of the Nazi Party and never endorsed Adolf Hitler or his movement. The Nazi leadership certainly never saw the Crown Prince as an ally but rather the opposite and their feelings on that score would become very clear during the course of World War II. While, early on, they tried to recruit royals as window-dressing to add legitimacy to Nazi gatherings, the Nazis were paranoid about any sympathy for the old monarchy and took action against the royals even if they were serving in uniform with the German armed forces.

Prince Wilhelm in East Prussia

Prince Wilhelm, the eldest son of Crown Prince Wilhelm, was born with every expectation of becoming German Kaiser one day. That all changed with the German Revolution in 1918 of course. However, as he reached adulthood, romance barred the way for his expected leadership of the House of Hohenzollern. In 1933, against the wishes of his grandfather, Prince Wilhelm married Dorothea von Salviati who he had met while in school in Bonn. Due to dynastic rules he had to renounce his claim to the throne and the rights of succession for any future children in order to marry the woman who had his heart. Upon doing so, the future of the House of Hohenzollern became the responsibility of his younger brother Prince Louis Ferdinand. He had been far away from Germany for a long time, having settled in the United States and taken a job in Detroit, Michigan where he was taken in by Henry Ford. President Roosevelt was also fond of the young man. When the actions of his brother called him back to Germany in 1934 he seemed the odd man out with some whispers that he was too taken with America and American ideas about democracy to be a potential Prussian monarch. Prince Louis Ferdinand was not pleased with the marriage of his brother and how it thrust him into the position of future leader of the family but it would be his line who would carry on the Hohenzollern legacy to the present day.

Prince Hubertus of Prussia

Prince Louis Ferdinand took a job in the aviation industry in Germany and later joined the Luftwaffe as a training officer. His older and younger brothers, Prince Wilhelm and Prince Hubertus both joined the army. Prince Wilhelm became an officer in the First Regiment of the First Division, rising to command the 11th Company in 1938. Prince Hubertus was to see service in the Eighth Regiment, Third Infantry Division (he later transferred to the Luftwaffe). When war broke out, Prince Wilhelm and Prince Hubertus both saw action in the German invasion of Poland. Another Prussian royal at the front was Prince Oskar Wilhelm who was a reserve officer. He was killed in action at Widawka, Poland on September 5, 1939. This Nazis noticed this but took no immediate action. Later, however, Prince Wilhelm was fighting at the front in the invasion of France and was mortally wounded at Valenciennes and died a few days later in Nivelles on May 26, 1940. Two Prussian princes being killed at the front disturbed the Nazi leadership who did not want the royals to have any share of the glory. However, they were more disturbed by what happened later.

Prince Alexander Ferdinand

When news of the deaths of Prince Oskar and Prince Wilhelm reached Germany there was an outpouring of sympathy toward the Prussian Royal Family. When the funeral for Prince Wilhelm was held at the Church of Peace more than 50,000 Germans turned out to show their support for the House of Hohenzollern. The sheer number of mourners caused the Nazi leadership to panic and they immediately enacted the so-called “Prince’s Decree” which banned all Prussian royals from military service. Prince Hubertus was pulled out of the line and basically forced to end his military career while Prince Louis Ferdinand in the Luftwaffe was prevented from ever seeing action. The only Prussian prince who was allowed to remain at his post was Prince Alexander Ferdinand, the son of Prince August Wilhelm and, like his father, a member of the Nazi Party and originally a member of the SA Brownshirts. When the decree was issued, it coincided with a Nazi crackdown on royals and monarchists in general. Any pretense of being in any way sympathetic to the old monarchy was dropped and even the few really pro-Nazi royals in Germany were pushed to the side and became subject to state scrutiny. Prince Alexander Ferdinand, who had once harbored hopes of becoming Hitler’s successor, was sidelined and his pro-Nazi politics also caused him to be shunned by his family. When he married in 1938 none of his Hohenzollern relations attended the wedding.

Prince Wilhelm Karl & Prince Oskar

Most of the Prussian Royal Family had much closer ties to the anti-Nazi underground than they did to the ruling party. Crown Prince Wilhelm, who some people regarded as too friendly with the Nazis, showed his true colors in subtle ways so as not to endanger his family such as the regular gift of cigars he sent to anti-Nazi monarchist Reinhold Wulle who was sent to a concentration camp for organizing a monarchist opposition party. Today, most tend to think that the Crown Prince had virtually nothing to do with the anti-Nazi movement but the Nazis themselves certainly did not think so and kept the Crown Prince under close surveillance throughout the war and after the assassination attempt on Hitler made in 1944 the Gestapo were ordered to shadow him at all times. The German resistance group which orchestrated that assassination attempt had numerous ties to the Prussian Royal Family. The man who would have been chancellor of Germany had the bomb plot and coup succeeded, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, was a monarchist and most of the attention was on Prince Louis Ferdinand as a potential German Kaiser going forward. Many of the plotters were also members of the German branch of the Knights of St John which was presided over by Prince Oskar of Prussia and whose son (and successor in that position) later wrote a history of the German resistance movement.

Prince Louis Ferdinand

Although he was not personally involved in the assassination plot, the connections between the resistance and Prince Louis Ferdinand were sufficiently known for the Prince to be arrested, interrogated by the Gestapo and then imprisoned at the Dachau concentration camp. Adolf Hitler himself stated that, “the Crown Prince is the actual instigator” of the attempt on his life. Propaganda Minister Goebbels said of the German royals and aristocrats, “…We must exterminate this filth,” and SS chief Heinrich Himmler said, “There will be no more princes. Hitler gave me the order to finish off all the German princes and to do so immediately.” That, thankfully, did not happen but Prince Louis Ferdinand was sent to a concentration camp and the anti-royal crackdown was so widespread that even the pro-Nazi Prince Philip of Hesse and his wife Princess Mafalda of Italy were arrested and put in (separate) concentration camps. Princess Mafalda died there from injuries sustained when the Allies bombed an ammunition factory in the camp where she was being held. Estimates are that five to six thousand royals and aristocrats were murdered in the purges following the bomb plot. Himmler wanted all German princes to be paraded through Berlin to be spit on before they were killed and their property seized and redistributed to loyal Nazis.

Prince Wilhelm

It seems strange that some modern historians will go out of their way, grasping at straws, in a desperate effort to link the royals with the Nazis (in an effort to discredit them of course) when the Nazis themselves were absolutely certain that the royals were the heart and center of their most dangerous internal opposition. Those Prussian and other royal princes who fought in the German armed forces, almost without exception, did so purely out of their devotion to Germany and the German people and not because of any sympathy at all with the Nazi regime. Those princes and aristocrats who were truly devoted to the Nazi cause were very few and found themselves betrayed by the party they served and shunned by the rest of their class and often by their own families. The handful that the party did not turn against, such as Prince Josias zu Waldeck und Pyrmont, a notorious general in the SS, faced retribution at the hands of the Allies when the war was over. For the House of Hohenzollern, the Crown Prince was held under house arrest as some considered prosecuting him for “war crimes” during the First World War, which was plainly absurd but his death in 1951 saw leadership of the family pass to the capable hands of Prince Louis Ferdinand, a man with friendly ties to the Allies and a staunch opponent of the Nazi regime throughout his life.

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